Not a thing about Bill Baumgartner’s childhood would have given anyone reason to think he’d end up with so much “fruit salad” on his chest.
“I grew up in Illinois,” he says, explaining how unlikely his future might once have seemed. “Landlocked Illinois. I had no maritime heritage in my family, experience or anything.”
When he was about to finish high school, however, a pal told him a cadet from the U.S. Coast Guard was coming to visit and suggested Baumgartner meet him. Before long he was heading to New London, Conn. – it was his first commercial flight – and a distinguished career. When he retired from the service as a rear admiral in 2013, the left breast of his dress uniform was filled with brightly colored ribbons and medals – “fruit salad” in military lingo.
“I didn’t even know we had a Coast Guard until about a month or so before that cadet came,” Baumgartner says. “It’s one of those odd little things. You never know where you might end up in life.”
He once thought the same thing about where he is now – leading Global Marine Operations for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. But reflection revealed a balance that appeals to Baumgartner.
“Maybe another way to look at it is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he says. “I spent my first career looking after life and liberty, and now maybe it’s time to look after helping people in the pursuit of happiness.”
To know why Baumgartner is ideally suited to his current role, it’s useful to look back over that first career. As commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District based in Miami, he led all operations in the southeast U.S. and the Caribbean Basin. That’s 15,000 miles of coastline including borders shared with 34 foreign entities.
Before that he was the Guard’s judge advocate general and chief legal counsel backed by a juris doctor degree – magna cum laude – from Harvard Law School. He holds an MBA from the University of New Orleans, and Bachelor of Science degrees in both marine engineering and electrical engineering from the Coast Guard Academy.
“Now I’m dealing more with engineering than anything else,” Baumgartner says. “So it’s a nice arc of, in many ways, going back to those initial studies.”
Today, as SVP of Global Marine Ops, Baumgartner also works to ensure the comfort of RCL’s millions of guests on scores of ships visiting nearly 500 ports around the world by figuring out “how I can best support those men and women on the ships that are actually delivering that vacation experience.”
“The guest really doesn’t care what I do, they care what happens onboard that ship,” Baumgartner says. “They care about their meal, they care about their stateroom, they care about the entertainment. They care very much about whether their toilets work.”
“If they go right, nobody notices. But if any little thing goes wrong, then we have to deal with it.”
No worries, he might say. Semper paratus – always ready. It’s the motto of the U.S. Coast Guard. Above and beyond – it’s the Royal Caribbean way.